Tag Archives: cruising life

How we make it work… as a long term sailing family.

I know its been a while since we’ve put out an actual sailing post. I think I’m almost a year behind!!!  Our last sailing post was  about Suwarrow.  Hopefully soon, a post about  sailing in Tonga (Sept-Oct, 2018) will explode from my brain and onto the blog.  It will come. For now, however, I do want to share a write up that I did for another blog/podcast.  Sometimes having someone give a prompt helps the writers block and motivation.  It is sailing related, but not limited to any particular location within our sailing journey.  Hope you enjoy.

That’s a great question, HOW DO WE WANT TO LIVE EVERY DAY?! And how do we make that possible?!

HOW DO WE STRATEGIZE? This question was brought up by a dear friend, Whitney Archibald, writer and podcast extraordinaire of  How She Moms  regarding how we strategize with parenting on the boat. (Click the link above to see our response and listen to the podcast with a few on my answers along with a few other Mum inputs). But this question wasn’t just about parenting style, when a fellow boat parent on S/V Mahi approached me with the question of how we manage to do this long term cruising thing from a financial standpoint for the Kids4sail June 2019 Newsletter, I realised that this “parenting strategizing”  extended beyond parenting on a day to day basis. The bigger picture was how do we strategize to live the life we want to offer our kids. How do we go cruising in order to raise our kids the way we would like them to be raised?  For most people, including us, the biggest challenge of cruising was figuring out how we would manage it financially.

 

When we first were thinking about sailing the world with our children, not necessarily around, we were faced with a few big questions. The biggest,  “HOW DO WE MAKE CRUISING WORK LONG TERM?” Many factors play into that, but the primary one people get caught up in when thinking about leaving their “current life” is figuring out how they can afford to do it financially.  There are some blogs that write about cruising budgets, but its hard to grasp the idea that cruising really is affordable when not many people are willing to share their financial information and the people that do might not have the same budget you would have.  Their are a few other topics are worthy of their own post, such as questions centred around education/boat-schooling, and how do you cruise and co-parent, with a blended his, hers, and ours like we have on our boat. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll leave those aspects out of this write-up and stick to finances. 

Along our journey, we have met many others who have shared their very different ways of making cruising work from a financial standpoint.  Like myself, there are a few nurses, but only a few.  There are some teachers, computer tech related fields and other various professions.  Most families out there cruising long term are still working in some way or form. Not many have been able to free themselves from the full work load completely. With an open mind to various possibilities, we, A FAMILY AFLOAT, have found ways to make it work up to this point and plan to continuing doing so.  I could not imagine our life any other way than as a cruising family.

Lets first start by defining what a “cruiser” is. Someone who has left their “home” to sail around afar (this could be in the same country or foreign) for an extended period of time. There are all sorts of different sub-species of cruisers. Those who sail seasonally, meaning they do a few months of sailing away from home, and the other months back at home. There are those who just take a year (or just a season) or two off and squeeze in what they can and then go back to “home”. Those who leave for longer periods, and those who leave with an open ended plan. We left with an open ended plan of “we’ll make it work along the way and keep going as long as it’s working”.  We left San Francisco in August, 2015 and slowly  (over 3.5 years) made our way to New Zealand so far.

When Christian and I got married in 2010, we had already agreed that we would one day go cruising with the kids. Originally we were thinking of leaving around 2019, but in 2014, when we  assessed our lives and our finances, we came to the conclusion that the opportunity to leave would open up for us for mid 2015.  I was the primary income source with my nursing career in San Francisco.  We were very fortunate to have a good steady income while Christian prepped the boat, raised the children and helped with schooling.  He is trained and skilled in carpentry (ground to finish work),  but when we blended our family and had another kid, it made the most sense for him to leave that job to take care of the “boatstead”.  I worked three 12 hour shifts a week and focused any extra money toward the cruising kitty.   We had already been living on our current boat  (S/V Shawnigan) since 2012 and paid it off by 2014, so it was just a matter of  putting enough savings into our “cruising kitty” account for at least one year’s worth of sailing.

Our costs were already relatively low, but there were a few changes we new we had to make in order to save enough in that next year. Six months prior to leaving, we pulled the kids out of private school to acclimate them to home-school life and in turn saved $$$. If you have the means to do this before you leave, we highly recommend it.  4 months prior to leaving, we moved Shawnigan out of the harbor we had been living in for the past 4.5 years and “anchored out” in the free anchorage.  This options isn’t for everybody, but worth it if you can.  Not only did we save quite a bit  of $ by being anchored out, it allowed us to get use to what life was like not being able to just step off onto the dock or dry land whenever one wanted to. It was hard work. I would wake up at 4:45 am, kayak to shore in clothes that could get wet, then ride my bike 13 miles to work to do a 12 hour shift at the hospital. I wouldn’t get home until 9:30pm at the earliest on those days.  But the hard work paid off.  Don’t forget, the extra little things add up. We ate out less and started getting rid of our extra stuff, including cars and bikes. By August, 2015 we had $20,000 in our cruising kitty and the same amount in an “emergency found”.  It allowed us to leave to go cruising with our kids and experience the world!

We kept a budget in mind while out cruising. Its easy to get into “vacation mode” and spend spend spend. Based on experience and hearing about it from others, we knew we wouldn’t be going out to dinner much and spending $ on extra sightseeing activities like some cruisers do.  A sacrifice worth making and was a challenge at time. We seemed to start out great, especially in Mexico. But as we met more people with an extended budget and as we sailed through more expensive countries it proved to be more of a challenge.  There were many times where we opted out of the group dinner out or the group sight seeing tour simply because we couldn’t afford to be spending money like that.  Trips like the Galapagos, I intentionally worked a few extra shifts on the previous travel nurse assignment in order for us to go there and enjoy a few dinners out and a tour or two their.

Assessing funds and making them along the way:  As our first year neared its marker, we knew it was time to refill the kitty.  As a nurse, I’ve always kept it a possibility to pick up travel nursing assignments throughout our sailing journey.  These are usually 13 week contracts that you agree upon with a travel nurse company. We figured hurricane season would be a good time for me to hop off the boat and work back in the U.S.. The family stayed on the boat a bit longer, but also took this time to come back to the States. As life tends to always change, just like the wind and the seas, that work stent ended up being 6 months, 4 of which we were all together in the States. Our boat was safe and secure during that time, in San Carlos, Mexico. The next year, was similar. We cruised for 9 months and then I  returned back up to the States for another Travel Nurse assignment. This one lasted 4 months, in which during that time the family stayed on the boat, explored the Sea of Cortez, and visited the States for 1 month. The next year, we made it 10 1/2 months before returning to work. The Shawnigan crew sailed from Mexico to Panama, to the Galapagos, and crossed the Pacific Ocean, explored French Polynesia, a blip in the Cook Islands, and 6 weeks in Tonga. From Tonga I flew out for my last Travel Nurse assignment… for now.

Upon arriving to Tonga, we assessed our kitty and decided that even though the plan was to work in New Zealand, I should fly back to the States for one more assignment. This was by far the hardest choice to make and to actually do. I would be away from the family to work for 13 weeks, but the payoff was great.  Sometime, mid Tonga, I had a phone interview with the hospital in Wellington. I was offered the job, given the info I needed for a work visa, and given permission to delay my start date until mid January while I waited for my work visa to go through and completed my travel assignment in the U.S.  In the meantime Christian and the kids sailed, with the help of our friend Nick, from Tonga down to New Zealand.  He then took the next few months, sailing solo with the kids,  down to Wellington, where we are all at now…on the boat, in a marina…schooling… working… refilling the kitty…. for the next leg of our sailing journey.

At this point we are uncertain how long we will stay in New Zealand… we just want to keep everyone on their toes.

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Group shot (minus Ellamae, who was already back in the US with her biological father) of the family taking me to airport in Tonga to fly out for a travel nursing assignment in California.

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Fun Facebook Video calls with the kids made it tolerable.

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And a few photos revisited from along the journey.

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Crossing the Sea of Cortez: from Mazatlan to La Paz 

We left Marina Mazatlan May 14th around 7:30 am, timed with the tides again. The swell was down, unlike coming in, the timing this time around was not as crucial. We had a minimum 2 day if not possibly 4-5 day crossing ahead of us, so an early departure was not necessary for the purpose of timing our arrival. Mike on SV Easy departed just before us to buddy boat across. We planned on communicating via predetermined SSB frequencies once our VHF was out or range.

The first day out was pretty mellow. We were forced by the wind to make a more north, northwesterly point of sail, which was fine. We motored for about an hour, just enough to get out past Isla Pajaro and catch a zephyr of wind. It was Mother’s Day, the sun shown brilliant, and dolphins came to swim off of our stern. Christian tried to join them in the water by tying himself off with a rope and filming with the goPro. We are pretty convinced that dolphins can hear our heartbeat, because as soon as he got in the water they swam away. When he just had the goPro in, they stuck around. Me with my Happy Mother’s Day smile after the dolphins visited.

The next day, was my birthday. I turned 36 and it was my first birthday celebrated out at sea. The day started out calm. I had planned to talk with my travel nurse recruiter via Satellite phone to try to pin down a travel job for the summer. We had already been conversing but nothing was final. I knew I needed to get something pinned down, but we were ready to set sail, so IridiumGo to the rescue! I had my nursing recruiter call me via satellite phone to secure a job while in the middle of the Sea of Cortez. I was shocked at how well the reception was. The call was dropped a few times, but we were able to get what needed to be done done and secured a job at Kaiser San Francisco for me in the summer! That was a pretty good birthday gift. This is where we were mid day on my birthday.

The kids loving Birthday cake in the middle of the crossing.

Later on that afternoon, the wind picked up to the mid 20’s and by evening was in the high 20’s with gusts of low 30’s on a close reach (upwind). We were double reefed with our Mainsail and furled in jib to about 90% for most of the night and the next day. Despite that our boat was handeling it well, and the hydrovane kept us steering perfectly, I got a little sea sick. The kids did too, but thankfully, no one reached the point of vomiting. They still were able to eat my birthday cake. Although I was able to maintain good spirits I was rendered almost completely useless. I can’t go down below to cook at all, let alone help the kids with anything. Tacking, trimming sails, steering is fine though and is actually helpful, so I don’t mind being “on watch” when I get sea sick. By nightfall I was feeling fine as long as I stayed focused and outside. I did end up taking a Bonine to help me keep from throwing up and fall asleep during my limited time off watch.     Love this “tilt boat’n” action! Water spilling over the rail, SV Shawnigan holding strong and steady.

The kids just relaxed or slept in off under the comfort of our dodger or they clipped their harnesses on and went outside for fresh air. No boatschooling was happening this crossing. So far no one on our boat has gotten so sea sick to the point of throwing up since we left in August 2015. I’ll take it as a sign that we’re getting the hang of it. All clipped in on the aft deck, singing songs into the wind to pass the time. Ellamae lounging in the dodger.

By the end of the third day the wind had us going north again, north of Muertos off of Isla Ceralvo. We tacked up before being able to tack back towards La Paz. We made it up until the channel below Isla Espiritu Santo before turning on the engine for that last hour. We made to Anchorage just north of La Paz, called Caleta Lobos, just after dark. Fortunately we’ve anchored here many times before, so coming in at dark was not ideal, but ok. The anchorage was flat and we slept so well!

More pictures:

 Taj fell asleep, clipped in to the back stay! Then again in the dodger…Nina perched up in a hammock on our first day out, while it was calm.

Mike on SV Easy at Caleta Lobos (just north of La Paz).
Stay tuned for our adventures in La Paz and up the Sea of Cortez via the east coast of Baja.

Mazatlan: round dos

First, our sail from Isla Isabela to Mazatlan: May 5th-6th, 2017.
We sailed off the hook from the east anchorage on Isla Isabel and headed 330 * North toward Mazatlan. With about 90 miles to travel we planned an overnight passage. We drifted the first 3 hours. Then the wind barely filled in, but enough to commit to sailing on. Early afternoon, the wind picked up to a more steady 4-8 knots out of the NW. We saw tons of sea turtles. By nightfall we’d barely gone 25 miles, but the wind kept up. Over the night there were a few drifting moments, but for the most part we had enough wind to cover 40 miles. The wind slowly switched out of the west and even the south for a little bit. We saw more sea turtles the next day, probably a total count of over 40. On the way in to Mazatlan we were cruising with winds up to 12-15 over our port beam. We dropped the hook on the East Side of Deer Island @ 1600 on May 6th. 2314.238 N , -10627.679 WSV Easy off of Isla Venados (Deer Island)

The next morning we timed our entry to the mouth of the harbor to arrive at 07:30 am for a good reason.  The SW swell was rolling in at 3 feet, 0800 was high tide and the bar at the entrance to marina Mazatlan and El Cid is shallow enough to break all the way across, so we needed that peak incoming high tide. We motored close to the entrance and timed our entry between the sets. SV Easy waited just behind us.  We made it through without any problems, but if we had not been careful we could of had breaking waves! 

We came into Marina Mazatlan and we’re immediately greeted by the dock guards, who lead us to a slip. We had been to Marina Mazatlan before and liked it, but man does it burn through the pocket book fast! We’re not use to this daily fee. The funny thing about Marina Mazatlan is that it’s cheaper to pay for 8 days than it is to pay for 4 to 7. We had a few things we wanted to do on the boat while docked, we would be there a few days anyway, to pick up Ellamae from her stay with her Papa, so we paid for 8. OUCH, but we made every bit of it count.  Taj found his new #1 seat on our Mantus Anchor.

Both times that we’ve been to Mazatlan, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. This time was a little different than our last visit here around the same time of year last year. We only went to the “old-town” in the city once. We went bowling twice, swimming with our friends at El Cid Marina once, we met up with some very long ago family friends that live in Mazatlan, and spent the rest of the time on boat-schooling and boat projects. Catch and release cat fishing.Taj’s new friend at the tienda (snack shop) at the head of the dock.

The trip to the city was more to stretch our legs and get outside. We ended up walking at least 6 miles along the malecón and through town. Nina and Taj skateboarded, which made the trip a little more tolerable. Everyone was a little sore the next day. It felt great! 

Bowling was fun. Not affordable by any means ($20-30 per family for an hour), but fun nonetheless. The bowling alley is in the Liverpool mall, which is walking distance from the marina. The first time, SV Raireva took us. The second time we went with SV Easy and the family on SV Riki Tiki Tavi. What a blast!

Swimming at the El Cid was fun, but the water was not very warm and the place is a wind tunnel. Oh and they don’t let kids under 12 in the hot tub, boo 😒. Our time spent there was short. 

I mentioned meeting with family friends from long ago. The Lonsdale’s, were friends with my parents when they lived near Mammoth Mountain. This was before and maybe a little after I was born; wait for it ….. 36 years ago.  They are also world travelers and have done quite a bit of relief work all over the world. They ended up moving to Mazatlan over 8 years ago and starting up 2 Looney Bean coffee shops; one in Downtown Mazatlan and the other one in Cerritos, a town on the very north end of Mazatlan.  Looney Bean originally came out of Mammoth Mountain, so when we saw it in Mazatlan, we were super excited. They roast their own coffee down here and it is sourced responsibly. They even donate 10% of the whole bean coffee sales to families in need in local areas. Before we led the coffee shop, we left our boat card with our number and email and sure enough, a few days later, Heidi, the owner called me. She was so excited, as was I, to make the contact after so many years had passed. Long story short, they invited us for dinner and we had a great time with very good people reminiscing and talking about traveling life. We are hoping to stop by on our way back south to spend more time with them, including surfing the local spots together! In front of the Cerritos Looney Bean with one of Heidi and Tom’s daughters. Ellamae and I Sporting the Looney Bean shirts.Heidi zipped off on her scooter. Love this lady! Tom and Heidi with myself. Can’t wait to see them again next fall!

Fondue dinner on SV Easy.

  My dock yoga shipshape time on the dock. Getting “grounded” after so much water time. 

Isla Isabel (Isabela)

Sail to Isla Isabel: left San Blas at 0515. Buddy boating with Mike in SV Easy. Ellamae was in Florida with Papa. We motored 1.5 hours out then sailed with offshore winds until about 1030, we got to fly the kite. Then we drifted for a bit. Around 11:30 the wind switched to NW. The typical close reach toward Isla Isabel. We sailed until 5:30. Then motored 2 hours to the island to get there before sunset. We ended up anchoring at the east anchorage of Isla Isabela. It was flat, beautiful and calm. Anchored in 27 feet on sandy bottom, near Las Monas pinnacles.  Our anchorage position was 21 60.891N , 105 52.715W . 

Sv Easy (Ingrid 38) underway.

We got to snorkel a lot, Taj kayaked, and Christian got to surf 4 times! The south swell was coming up and hitting the south east point just perfect. He had to dodge a few rocks, but had a blast!  

We swam and kayaked to shore to explore the island. As we brought the dinghy to shore the bird conservation group out of Mexico City greeted us and gave us a run down of how to help protect the nesting birds on the island. They were very welcoming. Las Monas pinnacles and Shawnigan and Easy anchored next to them.Rebecca, who is spending her post doctorate helping to conserve the island’s birds, teaching us a few things. Above: the camp of the students that spend 2 weeks stretches on the island helping to protect the birds.

It was awesome to see all the nesting Blue and Yellow Footed Boobies as well as the Frigates. There were so many of them protecting their eggs, as well as juveniles and newborn babies. There were also iguanas roaming around everywhere. All the wildlife here is magical, they let you get so close!  There’s a baby under there!There are eggs under this Booby.

 Yellow Footed Booby guarding a nearby nest. The male and female take turns with this role.

There is no wonder why Isla Isabel(a) has been quoted as “Mexico’s Galapagos”! The island was declared as a national park in 1980 and has been preserved as such ever since, protecting its flora and fauna. 

I would have to say that Isla Isabela is one of our top places we’ve sailed to so far. This was actually our fourth time there, but our first time exploring on the island this time of year. I’m so happy we got to experience the nesting birds In the dry season. Baby Frigatebird in its nest.

Albino FrigatebirdI love this picture; Albino Frigate in the foreground, the fishing village and Las Monas in the the background. Mike From SV Easy photo bombing the Blue Footed Booby picture .  Mike on SV Easy sailing off the hook toward Mazatlan. 

Chacala to San Blas

Well, we did it… we actually came in to a Marina and paid for a slip. We hadn’t paid for slip or moorage since we left San Carlos 5.5 months ago! All of the anchorages we’ve stayed at have been free. At only $10 night with access to water, pool, showers, internet, and most importantly LESS NO-SEE-UMS AND MOSQUITOES we decided to go for it. Mike Jacoby on SV Easy came along with us as well. We love buddy boating with him.

  1. Mike on SV Easy and the kids ate the obligatory Pan de Banana (Banana bread). And of course we did the La Tovara Crocodile tour and fresh water park. We highly recomend taking the tour from just east of the river bridge heading out of San Blas vs the one from the official Tovara tour site (the one closer to Matanchén). The tour is longer through the mangroves, the captain of the panga will speak english and you get to see more wildlife. Plus I like supporting a smaller family business.

There is a bird in there. Kudos for any comments identifying it. Owl or hawk? What type?the fence that keeps the Crocodiles out of the fresh water pool. Rafael, our awesome guide!


San Blas is worth the stop. Despite all of the bugs, which it in notoriously for, we enjoyed our visit. There is a lot of history is this town to explore, which we did on our last visit here last year. The town square is lively in the evenings. We happened to stumble upon “Dia de Los Niños” this year. They celebrated Friday and Saturday with song and dance in the square. The local ballet company performed with dances from the adults and the kids. The next night they had tons of vendors out around the square and a parade with decorative floats. 

As mentioned before, San Blas is notorious for its mosquitos and no-see-ums (called jejenes here in Mexico). Last year we anchored in Matanchen and they were much worse. We had the no-see-um netting up and even gave into the not so natural bug spray and we were still eaten alive! This year, at the dock, it wasn’t nearly as bad and the natural bug repellent seemed to work.  Later, we found out that the marina sprays the property, especially around the boats that are hauled out. For this, we were glad our visit was short. Coconut oil with citronella, clove, and grapefruit essential oils. Start with 10 drops of citronella, 5 of clove and 5 of grapefruit. Double it depending on how much coconut oil you use. Doubles as sunscreen and even extra sunscreen if you add zinc powder. 
Next up: Isla Isabel